Back from the Florida Pagan Gathering

I have not tried to sleep over all-night drumming since I was a little kid, when my district-ranger father would let the Indians from the Pine Ridge Reservation put up a temporary dance arbor each year on Forest Service land by our house, across from the Indian Health Service hospital in Rapid City.

That was Plains-style drumming–Boom Boom Boom–mixed with the jingle of ankle bells, and this was polyrhythmic drumming, but the principle was the same: treat it as white noise and go to sleep.

A few margaritas from the pirates’ camp helped the process along. Pirates in Florida are iconic.

I am back from the Florida Pagan Gathering, whose organizers inexplicably decided that my research pre-occupations (What is “nature religion”? Why did people claim that witches used flying ointments?) were worth flying me halfway across the country at Beltane so that I could talk about them to the dozen or so people (out of 700) who wanted to hear about them. Thanks, everyone!

FPG is a big, well-organized event held at a 4H camp owned by the University of Florida. It has room to grow there, and the organizers want to grow it.

A comment that Margot Adler made in one of her talks has stuck with me. At one time (pre-1980) covens and other Pagan groups were mostly separate. Then came the era of national festivals–I remember one of our coveners coming back from one of the first Pan-Pagan festivals in 1980 or ’81, walking two inches off the ground and full of new chants and songs to teach the rest of us.

That era established a sort of common ritual and musical culture, she noted, whereas now we are into the era of semi-professional and professional entertainment, and the brief common culture is diminishing. On the other hand, hearing Spiral Rhythm do the calypso version of “Eko Eko Azarak” was sort of a kick.

I have been working alone in my little house in the woods all winter, and FPG was “bright lights, big city” to this guy. It has been ages since I attended a big festival and got that “temporary autonomous zone” rush.

UPDATE: Coincidentally (there are no coincidences) Cat Chapin-Bishop is blogging on the phenomenon of Pagan celebrity. Two of us who were at FPG have already chimed in in the comments.